Charles Nevin: So really! But it's not as surreal as it all looks

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Abandon your anxious scrutinies of policemen, stop worrying about no longer understanding the cleverer television adverts, disregard the growing trepidation upon sighting a slippery flight of steps: the incontestable evidence of growing old is getting really bloody irritated with certain words, phrases and verbal tics that everybody else seems entirely happy with to the point of over-using them so much that you want to scream and shout and punch the wall again, even if it did hurt rather a lot last time.

Sorry. A bit carried away there. And for what? The last time I was banging away here, or it may have been the time before that, I mentioned my strong objections to these historians who put everything into the present tense – "Gustavus Adolphus is now in big trouble," and all the rest of it.

I don't know why I bothered, really, because every time I talk about it to anyone under 40 they give me that look, the one with the half smile and the nervous eyes, that is another incontestable piece of evidence about the age thing.

A nice man, a Mr Millett, did write this to me: "You are only the second person (apart from me) who I know to be irritated by historians' pretentious use of the wrong tense when describing past events. The second person was Frasier's brother Niles in the TV sitcom Frasier. When Niles pulls him up on this very point, Frasier responds that it 'gives the subject a sense of immediacy.' All this does not seem to bother other people."

Niles Crane! It's come to that. Next, I'll be whipping out the hankie for a quick bit of proactive hygiene precaution work and finding myself irresistibly attracted to someone with an unconvincing Mancunian accent.

But it won't stop me. It's too late. At the end of the day, how long have people been saying that for? And why does it still annoy me? Why does it annoy me at all? It must be something deep within my subconscious, touching the same hidden wellspring that bubbles and gushes every time someone calls Mr Humphrys "John" or Miss MacGregor "Sue" on the Today programme.

And what about the chummy, caring kind of voice deemed de rigueur on Thought For The Day? Why do people of religion all talk like that? Why do all airline pilots talk Home Counties Transatlantic? And I spotted my first "disinteresting" on Tuesday. I did.

Subconscious. That's reminded me what this piece is supposed to be about. That happens quite a lot these days, too. But: surreal. Listen, I'm really, really fed up with this one. Anything even slightly out of the ordinary, Manchester United losing, Cilla Black in a basque, Gordon Brown smiling, Geri Halliwell absent, a Virgin train surprising everyone, an empty room winning the Turner prize, is surreal. And if it's not surreal, it's ironic.

Snooker players and football managers are using surreal all over the place with reckless abandon. Did you think you would live to hear Trevor Francis describe something as surreal? Exactly. He'll be on to post-modern next.

Oh, yes, all right, you're encouraged. That's because you're either young or Estelle Morris. If something is to be described as surreal, it should at least conform to the founding thinking and be related to an effect achieved through the unfettered and unfiltered, arresting, striking expression of the subconscious, dreams, fur-covered teacups, pierced eyeballs, plenty of deep sex and primal fear, that sort of thing. Which could well let in Cilla and Gordon, and Martin Creed, just about, but not Trevor or any of the rest of it. Enough.

And surely the use of Virgin trains and Geri Halliwell in a jokey context is very tired now? "Context", "really, really", "proactive"? Verbless sentences? Goodness me, this is worse than I thought: now I'm beginning to irritate myself. It's almost surreal, isn't it?

c.nevin@independent.co.uk

Comments